May 22 – What Was That Number Again?

The world’s most famous phone number became that on this day in 1982 – one hit wonders Tommy Tutone hit “867-5309/Jenny” rang up as #4 in the U.S.

The San Francisco area rockers included members of Clover (a band which morphed into Huey Lewis and the News) and is still going, forty or so years after they began. They actually recorded a new album in 2019, some 21 years after their previous one. According to Alex Call, the writer, “was just trying to write a four-chord rock song.” He explains “I actually came up with ‘Jenny’ and the telephone number and the music…just sitting in my backyard.” Despite rumors, the song wasn’t autobiographical. “There was no Jenny,” he says, adding that when guitarist Jim Keller dropped by, he suggested that the girl’s number should be up on a bathroom wall “we wrote the verses in 15 or 20 minutes.”

The song was from their second album, and although signed to Columbia and scraping onto the American charts a year earlier with a song called “Angel Say No”, no one had high expectations for Tommy Tutone 2. “It didn’t have a lot of promotion,” Call remembers. “It was just one of those songs that got a lot of requests…it was on the charts for 40 weeks.” It earned them a gold single and also rose to #2 in Canada, but they never found the winning number again, failing to have any major hits since.

It wasn’t necessarily a hit for those with the number- people with it (including the daughter of Buffalo’s police chief) were routinely inundated with callers looking for “Jenny” by the hundreds and often ended up changing the number. It also probably frustrated a lot of romeos who were trying to get girls numbers in later years. “A lot of women have told me they use the number as a brush-off…which I think is really great.” So, remember guys, if you see a hot girl who doesn’t seem to swoon at you and you ask for their number…if she writes “867-5309” on your hand, you’re probably never going to see them again. (Perhaps a little like Tommy Tutone itself!)

March 15 – Turning Black Water Into Gold

A few days back, we looked at the band Love, a band unusual in its time for being bi-racial. Today, we remember a good day for another bi-racial band from California – the Doobie Brothers.

In the early-’70s, CCR were a band out of the Bay Area in California which struck gold by sounding decidedly like something out of the southern swamps. A few years later, the Doobies, another Bay Area band found it to be a key to their success as well. They had their first #1 single on this day in 1975 with the decidedly un-Californian sounding “Black Water.”

Formed about five years prior and originally rather a rough-cut bar band, the Doobies had prior success with singles like “Listen to the Music” and “Long Train Runnin'” . But months after their fourth album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits was released, it appeared to be flopping for them. The first two singles (“Eyes of Silver” and “Another Park, Another Sunday”)  met with little interest…but then some Virginia station flipped over the latter single and found the B-side, and liked what he heard. so too did his listeners, and soon that B-side, “Black Water” was their most popular tune yet.  As Tom Johnston of the band noticed about a decade back, the organic, region by region success “could have happened back then but never could happen now…(a radio station in) Roanoke, Virginia, picked the tune up, started playing it…somebody in Minneapolis who knew somebody in Roanoke heard it and decided to follow suit”. Soon it was a hit in a few cities, and in weeks it became their biggest A-side until 1979’s “What A Fool Believes”.

“Black Water” differs from most of their other singles in that it was written and sung by Patrick Simmons, whereas most of their early stuff was created and sung by Tom Johnston. Simmons found inspiration for the song when they went to New Orleans and “the way of life and vibe really connected with me,” saying the song was “my childhood imaginings of the South from reading Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.”

Like a long train, the Doobies are still runnin’. They put out their 15th studio album, Liberte, last fall and have a number of shows coming up this spring in Las Vegas and as Simmons, Johnston and Michael McDonald (the voice of “What A Fool Believes”) are with them now, they should sound quite true to their ’70s originals.

February 1 – No Crap, Green Day Raked In The Gold

This day in 1994 definitely wasn’t “crap” if you were a fan of surf-punk music, as Green Day released Dookie, their major label debut. (“Dookie”, for the record is slang for diarrhea, which apparently the band suffered from a lot back in the day, probably due to poor dietary habits and excesses of some other substances.)

Green Day were new to the masses but far from a new entity by this point. They’d formed a full eight years earlier, had released a couple of albums and several EPs on an indie label and had a solid following around their home base of Berkeley, California (a suburb of San Francisco sitting adjacent to Oakland.) They’d formed under the name Sweet Children in 1986 when childhood friends Billie Joe Armstrong, a singer and guitarist, and bassist Mike Dirnt joined with drummer John Kiffmeyer. The name was replaced with Green Day before they recorded any records; Sweet Children was being confused with another local band with a similar name and the boys liked a name that reflected their fondness for smoking a certain green herb. Kiffmeyer was replaced with German-born drummer Frank Edwin Wright III , aka Tre Cool, just after they released their first album 39/Smooth in 1990.

Their second full-length album, 1992’s Kerplunk, quickly garnered sales of 50 000 which was impressive for such a small label with no major distribution. (It’s worth noting that eventually the album was re-released on Reprise Records and went on to sell over a million copies.) That coupled with the band’s tireless touring and fun stage show got them noticed by several major labels and although they had multiple offers they signed on with Reprise , a division of Warner Bros., largely due to the interest of that company’s Rob Cavallo. Cavallo was a multi-talented musician in his own right and according to the band, “the only person we could really talk to and connect with.” Cavallo would also go on to sign the Goo Goo Dolls and produce not only Dookie but albums for Kid Rock and Phil Collins. Not surprisingly, by 2011, he was Chairman of Warner Bros. Records.

When he listened to the Green Day demo in his car, he “Sensed that [he] had stumbled onto something big,” and quickly booked them into Fantasy Studios. That happened to be “The House that Creedence Built”, the Bay Area’s most prestigious studio, used by CCR in their hay-day and later by artists like Journey, Sarah Mclachlan, Chris Isaak and the White Stripes, plus being where the sound for movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus was mixed. Since they’d already got the material written and practiced it wasn’t hard to get it all recorded inside of three weeks late in 1993. One song, ”Welcome to Paradise” was actually from their previous record, but re-recorded to sound more contiguous with the others. They didn’t quite get the sound they wanted at first, with them aiming for a Sex Pistols-like energy and rawness, so Cavallo re-mixed it to everyone’s approval and it was on shelves less than three months later. The rest is history.

It’s import wasn’t obvious at the time. Some media noticed it – Britain’s NME, for instance, reviewed it, giving it 7 out of 10 – others didn’t. Rolling Stone would eventually go on to name it the 30th best album of the ’90s and their readers chose it “Reader’s Choice Album of the Year” for 1994, yet the magazine itself apparently didn’t think it noteworthy enough to devote column space to when it first arrived.

Just as Nirvana’s Nevermind shook things up, so too did this one. Dookie took the energy and noise of Nirvana and other up-and-coming grunge acts but lightened it up some. With 14 or 15 songs crammed tightly into 41 minutes (the original CD lists 14 tracks but the last one, “F.O.D.” stops after 2:50 then, after a minute and sixteen seconds of silence leads into a hidden track, the Tre Cool-penned “All by Myself”, which is a separate track on the I-tunes version) it’s certainly has the pacing and urgency of punk, but for all the noise there’s a pretty strong sense of melody running through it. The New York Times called it an album that “only remotely resembled punk music…punk turns into pop.”

Punk or pop, fans ate it up. As the NME pointed out twenty years later, it proved “Teen rock …didn’t have to be all gloomy nihilism and angsty sonics. Dookie made rock fun again.” Others called it passionately apathetic. The loud, catchy tunes didn’t make many earth-shattering points; for the most part they were drawn from the band’s personal experiences.Much of that involved being bored and smoking pot. The single “Longview”, the first of 3 from the album to go to #1 on Billboard’s Alternative chart, is about “living in the suburbs in a sort of shit town where you can’t even pull in a good radio station,” according to Armstrong. “When I Come Around” was about a fight Billie Joe had with his then-girlfriend,(now wife) Adrienne that the band more or less put together while walking around San Francisco at night- something almost mirrored in the video. “Longview” and that song, and the videos which pulled into heavy rotation on MTV helped make the band household names quickly and let the album go all the way to #2 on Billboard. North of the border in Canada, as well as in Australia and New Zealand it was a #1 hit. Although initially lumped in with other California neo-punk acts like Rancid and the Offspring, Dookie soon put Green Day out ahead in the forefront of the ’90s Punk Revival scene.

The album won the Grammy for Best Alternative Album in 1995 and sold a staggering 20 million-plus copies worldwide, including about 10 million in the U.S., where as in Canada, it is certified Diamond status. It remains their biggest album to date, although they did come close a decade later with the more political American Idiot and its associated hits like “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Holiday.”

A spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 75 million albums sold and counting, five Grammys, even two Tony Awards (for their Broadway adaptation of American Idiot)- not bad going for a couple of slacker teens who decided to play music because their town was too boring!

July 31 – No Crying Now For Journey With Diamond-seller

A lot of people “Escape”d to the record store to pick up Journey‘s seventh album 40 years back. Released on this day in 1981, Escape ended up selling over 12 million copies, going diamond and hitting #1 in the U.S. – the band’s first. Overseas, it made the UK top 40 for the first time for the San Francisco band.

They’d clearly found their niche, with it being the fourth record with singer Steve Perry giving them their distinctive sound, and helping produce the record to boot. Although one of the flagship performers for CBS Records, they got to record the album at the legendary Fantasy Studios, originally the home base of Fantasy Records and, of course, CCR. Initially Escape was largely fueled by the single “Who’s Crying Now” (which hit top 5 in North America and to date is their only significant hit in Japan), the FM track “Stone in Love” and their first soft-rock “ballad”, “Open Arms.” The latter hit #2 in both the U.S. and Canada, and was their second gold single off it. Add in “Still They Ride”, an FM rock hit and you’ve already got a lineup sure to sell. However, over the years the album has gone onto be known mostly for “Don’t Stop Believing”.

That song got to #9 in the U.S…but years later obtained legendary status when used in the finale of The Sopranos. It became a massive seller on I-tunes and currently is certified 6X platinum as a paid download. Perry recalls “I didn’t want the song to be a part of a bloodbath…on order for me to feel good about approving the song use, they had to tell me what happened. And they made me swear that I would not tell anyone.”

Although not well received initially by critics (Rolling Stone for example, rated it 2-stars calling it “heavy metal light” and saying it was indicative of shrinking talent of the times) retroactively it’s been better-reviewed. Allmusic grade it a solid 4.5-stars, noting “a certain electricity circulates through” the album which was “topped off by the passionate, wide-ranged vocals” of Perry. Kerrang called it the “Greatest AOR album ever” in 1988 and more recently ClassicRock ranked it 22nd greatest album of all-time. It was certainly ahead of its time in one way – Atari released a video game from it in 1982!

Journey are still journey-ing forth, with a new album due this fall and a tour in the works, albeit with Arnel Pineda replacing Perry on vocals.

 

May 5 – The Dead Came To Life

Long before anyone annoyed Don Henley by putting their sticker on a Cadillac, the Grateful Dead had their inauspicious start on this day in 1965. They played their first-ever show (by the time they’d wrap it up in the ’90s, they’d have recorded over 2000 with countless more untaped!) in a pizza joint of all places! Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh and co. were at the time known as The Warlocks. They’d change that name later in the year when they found there was another band out east using the name – that band changed its own name to Velvet Underground.

Anyway, Garcia and Bob Weir worked together in a music store and could “borrow” equipment and they had their first show at Magoo’s Pizza in Menlo Park, CA, a suburb halfway between San Francisco and San Jose. The store posters listed it as “folksinging at Magoo’s Pizza” and fans who’d later go on to be hardcore Deadheads remember the place being filled mostly with high school kids and , according to one band historian, “Phil stood up on the redwood table and danced, the one and only time I ever saw him dance.” One might wonder what kind of mushrooms Magoos topped their pizzas with…

They continued playing the pizza place all month but soon would appeal to bigger audiences. By 1967, they were one of the top draws at the Monterrey Pop Festival; two years later, Woodstock. This was good, as apparently before too long Magoos stopped offering live music and by 2012, it ‘s storefront at 639 Santa Cruz Ave. is now a furniture store.

The Grateful Dead played their final show some 30 years later, in July, 1995 at Soldier’s Field in Chicago.

January 22 – Steve’s 5 Decade Musical Journey

Cake? Anyway you want it, Steve Perry – it is your birthday after all! The former Journey singer turns 72 today.

His dad (who was Portuguese and was born “Pereira”) was musical, loved to sing and owned a radio station in California and Steve learned to play guitar quite young. When he heard Sam Cooke’s “Cupid”, ten years aold and riding with his parents in the car, he decided music was going to be his life. He was right.

While he played in his school band, it’s always been Perry’s voice that has set him apart. Rolling Stone rank him as one of the 100 greatest singers of all time, suggesting “power, the range, the tone – he created his own style. He mixed a little Motown, a little Everly Brothers, a little Zeppelin.” Brian May of Queen says of him “he’s a voice in a million.” Randy Jackson (American Idol judge who also happened to play bass on Perry’s first solo record and now ironically is in Journey, without Perry) says “other than Robert Plant there’s no other singer in rock that even can come close to Steve.”

The powerful tenor voice certainly helped Journey as much as the band helped Steve. After three relatively poorly-received albums, heavy on instrumentals and with another singer, Journey’s manager Herbie Herbert called on Perry who was then in a struggling Bay Area band called Alien Project. The result was staggering – Infinity (which we talked about earlier this week here) put the band on the charts with Perry’s singing and radio-friendly writing and from there he went on to be the voice of all of the band’s hit albums, including 1981’s Escape, which sold in the area of 10 million copies. His first solo record, Street Talk, from 1984, was quite successful too, going double platinum in the U.S. on the strength of “Oh Sherrie”, a single he wrote for his then girlfriend Sherrie Swafford, whom he featured in the video.

Perry left Journey for good in 1996 after a hip injury resulted in him being unable to tour and caused conflicts in the group. Perhaps he’s better off that way. Currently various members of Journey are suing one another over use of the name. Perry, meanwhile, has been busy getting back to music lately. Apparently that came out of dying wishes of his girlfriend Kellie who passed away from cancer in 2012. He put out his third solo album, Traces, in 2018. The album hit the U.S. top 10 and garnered decent reviews; late last year he was back with Traces (Alternate Versions and Sketches), essentially an “unplugged” version of the previous one. “I just wanted to strip it down and show everybody the raw emotion that exists in those songs,” he says, adding that he has several more tunes in the works. “I think I’m too old to stop now,” he told journalists. Let’s hope so.

January 20 – Perry Helped Journey’s Star Soar To ‘Infinity’

One of San Francisco’s hardest-working bands journey from obscurity to superstardom took a big leap forward on this day in 1978 Journey released their fourth album, Infinity.

The album quickly goes on to eclipse the combined sales of their previous trio of jazz and prog-rock influenced records and establish them as one of America’s big FM rock bands, thanks largely to the singles “Lights” and “Wheel in the Sky.” Surprisingly, looking back, neither of those singles hit the top 40, even though they have now become rock radio standards.

The band had ingredients for success from the start. Gregg Rolie, their first vocalist, had worked with Santana and sung his “Black Magic Woman” and was a quality keyboardist; drummer Aynsley Dunbar had been an in demand studio musician used by John Lennon and David Bowie and Neal Schon (the only person to be a member for the band’s 40+ year history) had also been in Santana’s band. But what they lacked perhaps was a great, power voice and a producer to tie it all together. On Infinity, they got both, adding Steve Perry, which allmusic correctly noted was “a stroke of genius” and bringing in producer Roy Thomas Baker. Thomas had just finished working with Queen on their A Night at the Opera album and its epic “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Allmusic rated it 4-stars, better than any of the previous efforts, applauding “Perry’s soaring whale of a voice (and) Schon’s scorching fret work” and the band’s “traditional pop arrangements” leaving “dead and buried were the jazz fusion overtones” they had favored in their early days. Journey’s fourth would hit the U.S. and Canadian top 30 and eventually hit 3X platinum at home, but was quickly over-shadowed by even more successful albums like Departure and Escape in the next few years.

October 16 – And Then, CC’R’ Done

About two years after the world learned Britain’s top band had broken up (The Beatles, obviously), America’s did the same. Creedence Clearwater Revival officially broke up – for good as it turns out – on this day in 1972.

Astute fans couldn’t have been surprised. Cracks in the band were growing deeper and more public since early-’71 when Tom Fogerty quit the band he helped start about 13 years earlier. Indeed, Tom, drummer Doug Clifford and bassist Stu Cook had been performing together since starting a band called the Blue Velvets in high school in the late-’50s. The fortunate, but ultimately destructive, moment for them came around 1964 when they added in Tom’s younger brother, John. John could play guitar better, write songs and sing. He sounded a lot like Tom, but the older one deflected that by saying “I could sing, but John had a sound!” The sound got them noticed around the Bay Area as the Golliwogs, and signed to local label Fantasy Records, where they were “an unapologetic throwback to the golden era of rock & roll, (different than) their peers on the progressive, psychedelic San Francisco scene” as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would note.

Another name change, suggested by the record company, and the band were up, up and away. In an amazing four year run, they put out seven studio albums and scored nine American top 10 singles… all featuring John and most written by him, like “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” and “Fortunate Son.” They were one of the unexpected highlights of Woodstock and one of the top touring acts of the turn of the decade. That pressure as well as John’s dominance in the band began to take its toll.

“I was alone when I made that music,” John would later say. “I was alone when I made the arrangements, I was alone when I added backing vocals, guitars and other stuff…(the other three) were obsessed with the idea of more control.” That led Tom to quit the band in ’71 after they released their sixth album, Pendulum. They continued to tour and work on a new album (which became Mardi Gras) as a trio. For that record, John threw up his hands in disgust or called their bluff, telling the other two to write songs themselves and play it; he’d only add rhythm guitar on anything but his own songs. The result was their least popular album, and one with only two semi-hit songs, “Sweet Hitch-hiker” and “Someday Never Comes”, both John Fogerty-written and sung. Rolling Stone famously called it the worst album “ever from a major rock band.”

All that coupled with a growing riff between the group and Fantasy Records’ boss Saul Zaentz. They all figured they had a terrible contract with the company, Cook (a business student) blamed Fogerty for signing it. It’s only surprising the split didn’t come sooner!

After that, as we know, things got messy, and fortunes didn’t soar for any of them. Tom Fogerty had a wee bit of success with his ’74 album Myopia (on which all three of the others appear, the closest thing to a real reunion that’s happened) but died young, in 1990. Stu and Doug remained friends and did some work together, touring for awhile as Creedence Clearwater Revisited, playing CCR music with other vocalists… something John sued unsuccessfully to stop. And of course, John’s recorded at times, and even had a major comeback hit in 1985 with Centerfield, but is mostly known for the time and effort he’s spent in litigation with Zaentz, Fantasy Records and his former bandmates. He refused to join Cook or Clifford when the band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; Tom had passed away by then.

Fans needn’t hold their breath for a cheery, and lucrative reunion, even though John had mellowed a bit and by 2011 said “Never say never… reunion? Yeah it’s possible.” At the time Clifford stated “leopards don’t change their spots…this is just…image-polishing by John,” and nine years later the event hasn’t even been hinted at.

September 27 – Balin Kept The Airplane Grounded

Remembering a musical square in a field of paisley holes. Marty Balin passed away two years ago at the age of 76, in Florida. The musical square comment, mind you, isn’t meant as an insult, but rather an acknowledgment that although he’s synonymous with the psychedelic-’60s and their erstwhile capital of San Francisco, he was always a bit different and more traditional than many of his contemporaries.

Part of that might be because he grew up as a child in Cincinnati, although he’d moved to the West Coast by high school. A bigger part of it might be that he was autistic; he was one of the first celebrities to have been identified as such and in his latter years he’d do a great deal of fund-raising for autism charities.

Balin started his solo career around the start of the ’60s, playing folk music in clubs in the Bay Area, and putting out two solo singles by 1962. A few years he co-founded the seminal hippie band Jefferson Airplane, and he wrote about half of their famous Surrealistic Pillow album, played guitar and shared the mic with the more famous Grace Slick. While the band veered towards the weird and wonderful of psychedelia, he always seemed to prefer a more conventional, folk-based sound, like the country-rocker “Volunteers” he wrote. He was with them at their famous Monterey Pop and Woodstock concert appearances, and also at the Altamont show, in which he was knocked out by a Hell’s Angel “security guard” while on stage. Not long after that, he quit the band. “After Janis’ death,” he says of why he quit, “that just struck me. It was dark times. Everybody was doing so much drugs, I couldn’t even talk to the band. I was into yoga at the time…cocaine was a big deal and I wasn’t a cokie.”

After a few years and changes, he rejoined them when they became Jefferson Starship, and he shone on the big hits of that incarnation – “Miracles”, which he wrote and sang, and “With Your Love” which he also sang. However, ongoing tension between him and Grace caused both of them to quit about the same time in the late-’70s.

Balin went on to write an obscure rock opera, Rock Justice, then put out a hit solo album, Balin, which contained two top 20 hits, “Hearts” and “Atlanta Lady,” both written by his friend Jesse Barish. He joined ex-Airplane mates Jack Cassady and Paul Kantner in the band KBC in the mid-’80s, but that didn’t result in much gold or platinum hardware for them. Not that he seemed to mind that much, he had by then made a comfortable living and enjoyed a family life and time painting. Painting was always a passion for him, and he was noted for portraits of other musicians.

He had heart problems in his last years and a botched surgery in 2016 left him with a myriad of health problems. No cause of death was listed for his demise en route to a hospital, but one has to expect it was somehow related to that event. Upon his death, Jorma Kaukonen of the Airplane wrote “had it not been for him, my life would have taken an alternate path I cannot imagine…it was a moment of powerful synchronicity. I was a part of it to be sure, but I was not a prime mover. Marty always reached for the stars and took us along with him.”

August 9 – World Less Colorful, Bit More Touch of Grey 25 Years Ago

Remembering Jerry Garcia, 25 years later. The face of the Grateful Dead for their 30 year run and 2300+ concerts, died of a heart attack at age 53 on this day in 1995.

The band’s drummer Mickey Hart said “Jerry wasn’t well to begin with and was winding down. He was living on borrowed time,” but adds it still hit him “like a hammer” when he found out. Garcia was at a rehab center at the time, but apparently not for addictions per se this time but rather complications from past abuse. A sadly fitting end to the talented guitarist and singer who’d been plagued with addiction issues as well as health problems from his diabetes, for years.

Garcia helped start the Grateful Dead and was a primary writer of their vast catalog as well as the singer and a guitarist for them. The latter is amazing since he lost most of a finger on his right hand in a childhood accident! That didn’t cut into his talent at all; Rolling Stone ranked him as high as the 13th greatest guitarist of all-time in 2010 (right behind Kurt Cobain) saying he “could dazzle on slide or pedal steel but his natural home was playing lead on stage, exploring the frontier of psychedelic sound.” his talents were also put to use helping out friends on their records including Brewer and Shipley’s “One Toke Over the Line” and playing steel guitar on CSNY’s classic “Teach Your Children.” Hart says “if you take music seriously, you know Jerry Garcia.” He added that he was so upset he didn’t leave his house for over a week after Jerry’s death but the first time he did, he was at a gas station and a “hippie gal” ran up to him and said “don’t ever let the music stop.” So he keeps playing, “I think of Jerry when we play those beautiful, slow ballads – ‘Black Muddy River,” “High Time,” “Wharf Rat” – he really loved those slow songs.” “Black Muddy River” was off their commercial breakthrough, In the Dark, their first top 10 album which came two decades into their career. However, their reputation was always built on their live sets and the diehard group of “Deadheads” who followed them almost religiously. As such it’s little surprise Jerry and the gang put out more live records than studio ones!

In the ultimate irony, the devoted hippie is now widely known for… not a tye-died shirts or sandals but a line of dress ties bearing his artwork!